Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Many Faces of Chanel

What is in a face? It is a few millennia since one launched a thousand ships and today the face is more likely to launch products. This month will see one replaced by another. Five years is a long time for an ad campaign to run and Nicole Kidman is finally bowing out as the face of Chanel, to be replaced by Audrey Tautou. There have been many faces of Chanel throughout the decades - here are ten of them.

Coco Chanel - 1921

Symbolically, Tautou began her enshrinement as the new face of the famous perfume on 5 May, exactly eighty eight years after Chanel number 5 was first introduced. The first face used to launch the product – why Coco herself of course. Since then the company has, with remarkable prescience, chosen a succession of beautiful women who have represented the zeitgeist of their particular era. The choices have always been of sublimely beautiful women, of course, but those with a strong individual personality that sets them apart. As Coco Chanel herself said, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must be different.”

And she of course would know. No doubt, too, she would approve of the choice of Tautou. Hardly a coincidence that the French actress, gamine and cute as a button is currently wowing French cinema audiences with her portrayal of the perfumer in the biopic Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel). The film hits screens near you over the next six months.

Coco Chanel - 1937

Chanel continued to be the face of the perfume way in to the thirties. The images changed with the time. The cutting edge art of Parisian caricaturist Sem which gave the product a whimsical if classy air gave way to the almost surreal look of photographer Kollar’s images. The product, like the proprietor is now mature, grand and denoting wealth.

Marilyn Monroe - 1960

From there the faces come and go. Many associate Marilyn Monroe with the scent but she was never an official representative. No money ever exchanged hands between the company and the actress. Monroe did, however, give Chanel the biggest boost of the nineteen sixties. She was asked by a journalist what she wore to go to bed. Instead of a description of her jimjams the reply was “a few drops of Chanel No 5.” You simply cannot buy publicity like that.

Ali MacGraw - 1966

By the mid sixties Chanel was a global brand and the choice of the young Ali MacGraw caught the spirit of the times perfectly. This was a brave choice by Chanel as the actress was at this time little known – it was a good four years before the weep fest that was Love Story hit the screens. However, at the height of Flower Power, this choice encapsulated the decade when people tried to rediscover their innocence and this was a successful attempt to make advertising a happening.

Catherine Deneuve - 1972

The icy beauty of Catherine Deneuve was another inspired choice of model. Retrospectively we might think that it was an obvious choice but when this campaign was launched in 1972 Deneuve was known only to a handful of French cinema fans outside of her native country. Plus the film that she was best known for, Belle de Jour where she played a housewife who decided to become a prostitute. However the instincts of the marketers at Chanel were right yet again. A perfect fit, another hit.

Carole Bouquet - 1986

The eighties. The world was a mess but our hair was perfect. Carole Bouquet became the face of Chanel in 1986 and again sales of the perfume rocketed. Unlike Deneuve, Bouquet already had a global profile, having stared alongside Roger Moore in the Bond Film For Your Eyes Only. She was beautiful, from Paris and uber chic (despite the fact that she had made the mistake of marrying Gerard Depardieu). Beauty. Paris. Chic. Tick, tick, tick.

Vanessa Paradis - 1991

Although many believe that Chanel didn’t quite get it right with this 1991 campaign as it seemed to strike several blows in unison against the idea of female emancipation that went hand in hand with the product, Chanel certainly saw staying power in the young French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis. While perhaps not as cool as previous campaigns, Paradis went on to do just about the coolest thing any woman could ever do. She married Johnny Depp.

Andy Warhol - 1997

Andy Warhol as a Chanel model? No, but his iconic rendering of the No 5 bottle was reinvigorated by a 1997 campaign that emphasized the perfume not the wearer.

Kate Moss - 2003

Kate Moss was, for a year, the face of Chanel and was the most mainstream choice the company had ever made. However, revelations of her rock and roll lifestyle (a little too much rock, perhaps) meant that her contract was not renewed in 2005. Chanel insisted strongly that the revelations in British tabloids about her drug taking antics were nothing to do with the non renewal. No, of course not.

Nicole Kidman - 2004

And so to Nicole Kidman whose Baz Luhrmann directed advert ran each and every holiday season on TV screens across the globe. Whether or not the big diamond Number 5 swathed down her back made her look like she was attempting a reverse Gangsta Rap image is debatable but the breathless dreamtime of the Australian’s five year tenure certainly had the cash registers ringing.

Keira Knightley - 2007

Keira Knightley. Classy. Chic. British. Tick, tick, er, well two out of three ain’t bad. Attention was diverted from the product by the arguments that raged in the dailies about whether or not her image had been photoshopped to make her, well, more curvaceous. In 2007 when this product was launched, Knightly had been vehemently denying that she was anorexic, something belied by her appearances in the press looking stick thin. Non! Chanel insisted. These pictures were not doctored – they were the real deal.

Throughout almost ninety years, Chanel has taken risks with its advertising and they have mostly paid off. After all, how many near century old brands are there and how many can boast that throughout that time their finger has been firmly on the pulse of the times? The right face will, indeed, ship a million bottles.

Also written by the author

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Anonymous said...

Beautiful faces of Chanel.

Glynis said...

There are some ladies I had forgotten about there. Interesting article :)

Anonymous said...

Of course Kiera was photoshopped. No art director in the world would OK any image without it. That's just the way it is.

Bo Russo said...

Kiera Kneightly is drop dead georgeous.

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